Easterseals Honors Bobbie Kilberg for Life of NVTC Leadership, Service

Bobbie Kilberg

As Bobbie Kilberg enters retirement following more than two decades as president and CEO of the Northern Virginia Technology Council, she leaves behind a legacy of service to others.

Kilberg, who retired June 30 after nearly 22 years on the job, was set to be honored with an Advocacy Award at the annual Easterseals fundraiser advocacy dinner, which was canceled because of the pandemic. Easterseals is a nonprofit that provides a variety of services for seniors, veterans, people with disabilities and their families. Kilberg has served on its honorary board for four years, and has led NVTC’s collaboration with Easterseals.

The Advocacy Award recognizes leaders who have made an exceptional difference on behalf of those with disabilities and special needs, including veterans and military family members, said Jonathan Horowitch, president of Easterseals.

“Bobbie has been an exceptional leader in this space,” he said. “She has served on our honorary board for a number of years and does a lot of work with us to help raise awareness of the importance of people with special needs and disabilities being included and getting services, and engaging military families into the community.”

Kilberg also has a personal connection to the Easterseals mission. Her preschool-aged granddaughter was born at just 27.5 weeks gestation — about three months early — and speaks very little despite being very intelligent.

The child’s parents chose to have her receive private speech therapy, but they’ve also enrolled her in a preschool that allows her to be integrated into a mainstream classroom. She has thrived in that environment, Kilberg said, thanks to the approach the adults in her life have taken to her care — an approach that Easterseals champions.

‘Absolutely the best’

Today, NVTC is one of the largest technology councils in the nation, representing about 350,000 employees. Brad Schwartz, who serves on NVTC’s board of directors and executive committee, has been named acting president and CEO as the search for a permanent replacement continues. Kilberg announced in fall 2019 she planned to retire June 30.

She came to the helm of NVTC in September 1998 and calls it “absolutely the best position and job opportunity” she’s ever had. 

“And that’s saying a lot because I’ve had the privilege of working in the White House for three presidents,” she added.

Kilberg served as a White House fellow on the staff of President Richard Nixon’s Domestic Policy Council, as associate counsel to President Gerald Ford and as deputy assistant to the president for public liaison and director of the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs for President George H.W. Bush.

After her fifth child was born, she decided to step back from full-time work to be home with him. Still, she remained actively involved in the community, serving on several boards, volunteering and building relationships. After a few years, her spouse expressed concern that she might be forgotten if she didn’t try to reenter the job market soon. To please him, she agreed to at least entertain the idea but added she was only interested in part-time work.

About that time, Randy Jayne of executive search firm Heidrick & Struggles approached her.

“I ran into him literally on the street, and he said, ‘You know, we really ought to get together for lunch,’” Kilberg said. “You know how everybody in Washington says, ‘Yes, let’s have lunch,’ and then you never do?”

Three months passed. When he called again, Kilberg told him she was interested only in part-time work, but not the sort of job that would take over her life.

“And he said, ‘Well, this would take over your life.’ He said: ‘It’s not part-time, but it’s perfect for you. It’s the head of a technology council. I said: ‘I can’t even spell technology. What are you talking about?’”

NVTC doesn’t need a technologist, she was told. It needs someone who understands business, management and leadership. It needs someone who excels at networking, education and bringing people together.

“And so I said, ‘OK, I’ll talk to him,’” Kilberg recalled. “It was the first and only job in my life that I had ever interviewed for, and to my surprise, I got it.”

Even after 22 years, Kilberg says she is still not a technologist. Not that it matters. Technology changes rapidly. The CEO, she said, doesn’t need to be able to tell you how to code. The CEO needs to be able to tell you why coding matters and what difference it makes in the lives of employers, employees and business.

“That’s what I’ve been doing,” she said. “And it leads you to things such as the Veterans Employment Initiative, which from my perspective was one of the most wonderful things I have ever been involved in.”

Inclusive Programs

A child receives services through an Easterseals program.

While the annual advocacy dinner has been canceled because of the pandemic, Easterseals programs continue.

In addition to the VEI, Easterseals also has a veterans staffing network that provides free job coaching and placement services to veterans and military family members. Under that program, Easterseals connects with corporate employers to find the talent they need in addition to working with veterans to help them prepare for and transition to the workforce.

The Stephen A. Cohen Military Family Clinic operated by Easterseals provides evidence-based mental health care to veterans regardless of their discharge status as well as to the families of veterans and activity duty personnel. The clinic supports efforts to place veterans in technology jobs, he said, by addressing potential barriers to employment.

“The programs go hand in hand,” Horowitch said. “Sometimes, someone will come to the clinic and they have anxiety and as the clinician will be working with them, the anxiety often can be related to unemployment or underemployment. So then when we can support them in the veterans staffing network, it helps their mental health and vice versa.”

“We are still here and supporting the community even during the crisis of COVID-19,” Horowitch continued. “The team has been incredible at converting all of our programs to virtual support, which was a lot of work.”

The Cohen clinic, for example, has seen a 30% increase in clients in sessions versus last year, but all through telehealth. Job coaching and placement is ongoing. In the medical adult day care program, staff are staying in touch with participants through daily calls that potentially save lives. One family had an undiagnosed case of COVID-19 a staff member was alerted to through a call and helped the family get care. Through Easterseals programs, deliveries of food, diapers and personal protective equipment are ongoing.

“So even though our centers are not operating physically, the needs are still there, and we are working to meet them and meet the evolving needs of the community because of the crisis,” Horowitch said.

Telehealth doesn’t fully replace in-person help, Horowitch said, and social isolation has created its own set of problems. The number of children being entered into the early intervention system that helps address issues before they grow into bigger problems has gone down by about two-thirds, he said.

“We’re only seeing about one-third the number we would normally be seeing,” he said. “That’s a huge problem because the earlier the intervention starts, the better the outcomes are.”

Horowitch encourages families to visit makethefirstfivecount.org and complete the Ages & Stages Questionnaire, which can help determine if there are potential issues, and if so, what to do.

Easterseals turned 100 years last year, and one of its tenants is inclusivity and mainstreaming children and adults with disabilities into everyday life. Easterseals has programs in 48 states integrating children from 6 weeks old until kindergarten, a model similar to what Kilberg’s granddaughter is using.

A child receiving services from an Easterseals program.

“She has flourished in that environment,” Kilberg said, “because kids at that age tend to be very kind, actually. They’ve included her in everything, and the fact that she can’t speak or just says one or two words doesn’t bother them … She is growing in all sorts of intellectual ways, which wouldn’t have happened if she had been isolated and put in ‘a separate and specialized’ environment for kids with special needs.”

“If you isolate people out and separate them out, then you’re always going to have an unequal society,” she continued. “If you include them in the process, they will find amazing ways to be relevant, useful and productive citizens.”

Kilberg said the ability to use technology has risen exponentially during her 22 years at NVTC, and Easterseals leverages the technology available in working with individuals with disabilities. Assistive technology can, among other things, help calm someone dealing with “sundowning,” a phenomenon in which individuals with dementia become agitated late in the day. It can help with speech, communication and a host of other things to help individuals who might otherwise struggle to find employment.

“The evolution of technology and the ability and resources that it provides to enable Easterseals to be an inclusive operation is just remarkable,” Kilberg said.

Technology in tandem with a supportive environment have helped her granddaughter to not only flourish academically but grow up with a sense of self-esteem.

“Thanks to the inclusivity and the ability to be mainstreamed with these other children, she thinks she is just fine, and that’s a great gift,” Kilberg said.

Even during the pandemic, Easterseals program workers are continuing regular check-ins with child development families, both with the parents to check in, but also doing classes over Zoom for virtual storytimes, Horowitch said.

Legacy of work

Kilberg has been repeatedly recognized as among the region’s most powerful technology leaders. She was awarded the 2004 Lifetime Achievement Award from Women in Technology, named the 2009 Business Leader of the Year by Washingtonian magazine, inducted as a laureate into the Washington Business Hall of Fame in 2013, four times named to Washingtonian magazine’s 100 Tech Titans of Washington and twice named to its list of 100 Most Powerful Women. Virginia Business magazine selected her four times as among the Most Influential Virginians, and the Washington Business Journal twice named her to its Power 100.

Horowitch said Kilberg’s work at NVTC has helped to engage a diverse workforce that includes veterans, military family members and people with disabilities. NVTC’s Veterans Employment Initiative launched as a bipartisan effort in 2013 with a goal of assisting veterans in their search for civilian employment with an emphasis on technology jobs that range from certificate to master’s degree levels.

The initiative has won recognition from the state for placing more than 16,000 veterans over a 7-year period into jobs in the technology industry. Still, there are many vacancies waiting to be filled and many veterans searching for jobs. 

As Kilberg reflects on her career, she focuses mostly on the positives, but there is one area in which she wishes she had been able to do more: spouses. While the military moves its members from place to place, spouses of military members often find themselves repeatedly searching for a new job each time the family moves, she said. It’s an area where a broader embrace of remote work could come into play, and she hopes her successors will be able to address the issue.

“There’s no reason in this technological age, even before we discovered tele-work and remote learning and remote working because of COVID — way before that, there was absolutely no reason why so many jobs could not be done remotely,” she said.

Kilberg has left her influence on the numerous corporate boards and community organizations on which she has served over the years, including the board of directors of Appian, Inc., the American Action Forum and the NVTC Foundation. She has formerly served on the corporate boards of United Bank – VA and the RG Group and was previously on the board of visitors of the University of Virginia and the boards of trustees/directors of The George Washington University, public television station WETA, the Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts, The Potomac School, U.S. Naval Academy, U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council, Lab School of Washington and the Greater Washington Sports Alliance.

Kilberg is a graduate of Yale Law School, Columbia University and Vassar College. She also holds an honorary associate’s degree in humane letters from Northern Virginia Community College.

She and her husband, Bill, live in McLean, Virginia. They have five children and 12 grandchildren. 

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